Temporary London correspondent Lauren Gawne writes…

I had the good fortune of having my visit to London coincide with the Globe to Globe festival, which Aidan mentioned a couple of weeks ago. It was part of the Shakespeare Festival, itself a part of the bigger London 2012 Festival, which is all tied in with the Olympics and Royal Jubilee (it’s a rather crazy time to be visiting London!).

The Globe to Globe festival is showcasing every single one of Shakespeare’s plays in different languages from around the world, even the plays you never hear of like Coriolanus (in Japanese) and King John (in Armenian).

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I also have the good fortune of having a friend who was organised enough to suggest we go see something. Of all the amazing languages the plays have been translated into (including Lithuanian, Mexican Spanish, Gujarati and British Sign Language) we ended up deciding to see Othello, translated into ‘Hip Hop’.

I’m not much of a Hip Hop connoisseur, nor am I very well educated in Shakespeare. I have to say there was an uncomfortable thirty seconds for me at the start where I was unsure if the premise was going to hold. I’ve seen enough cheesy Shakespearean ‘updates’ to know they can go horribly wrong, or can just feel like someone chose a play and chose from a random list of ‘adaptive’ techniques (Romeo & Juliette gender inversion! MacBeth set in the future! etc.). These guys clearly know their stuff and once we were extolled to throw our hands in the air I was sold. The plot isn’t changed, but the context is updated from the Venetian military to a modern day hip hop recording label (called ‘First Folio Records’ *chuckle*).

The Q Brothers (actual brothers) wrote the script and make up half the quartet of actors. There’s lots of character changing and cross-dressing which is all part of the fun. There’s still some classic Shakespearean English that pokes through, but the text is extensively rewritten, while staying true to the themes of race, power, jealously and love (also major themes in the world of hip hop). In an interview GQ (one of the two Q Brothers) explains that it’s a gradual process over several rewrites.

The audience reviews I eavesdropped on in the shuffle outside were all positive, and mostly along the lines of ‘more kids would like Shakespeare if it was done like this.’ It’s certainly an argument I have no qualms with – after all, I saw Ten Things I Hate About You before I saw The Taming of the Shrew. Although it’s debatable whether hip hop is a ‘language’ it’s clearly a style of it’s own, and one that has a lot in common with Shakespeare’s penchant for novel rhymes and playful banter.

But for me it wasn’t the updating of the language itself that was most important to the accessibility of the play; a good bunch of actors and some selective editing can make most of his work sufficiently accessible. For me what made it really zing was the updating of the allusions and pop references. Nothing kills a joke like having to look it up in a footnote – but references to Dungeons and Dragons, Andre Agassi, and the Beastie Boys all made sense for the audience and allowed them to connect with the story.

I had a great time; I laughed, I hollered, I got teary and yes, I threw my hands in the air. It’s probably the only play I’ve seen where the performers returned to the stage to high-five the audience. If the Q Brothers are ever in your hood go check them out!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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